Chinese social media giant WeChat ‘wipes out’ LGBT+ accounts amid fears of government crackdown

Chinese social media and messaging app WeChat has allegedly removed dozens of LGBT-led accounts, prompting concerns of a wider crackdown.

Several LGBT+ groups told Reuters they had been locked out of their WeChat accounts Tuesday (6 July) night. Some discovered that all of their content had been deleted from the app.

One account manager, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told Reuters that they were “censored without any warning”.

“All of us have been wiped out,” they said.

According to the Washington Examiner, the accounts posted content ranging from LGBT+ book recommendations to mental health resources

A manager for a Beijing university LGBT+ group said her account had been active for six years before it was blocked by WeChat. She told the Washington Examiner that she had 18,000 followers.

WeChat is operated by Chinese tech giant Tencent and allows users to do everything from video calling and messaging other users to making payments for everyday purchases. The app is extremely popular in China with over a billion reported monthly users in 2019, according to CNBC.

Hong Kong, strained by anti-LGBT policies, saw leap towards progress after courts ruled gay couples should have access to public housing programmes. (Edward Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

Reuters tried to access some of the LGBT+ groups’ accounts but was continuously met with a message from WeChat saying they had “violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet”.

Shutdown prompted concerns China’s ruling Community Party is cracking down on LGBT+ advocacy

Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai’s China Center, told Reuters the deletion of queer content is “another turning of the screw” when it comes to growing tension between the Chinese government and LGBT+ groups.

“Authorities have been tightening the space available for LGBT advocacy and civil society generally,” Longarino explained.

An anonymous LGBT+ group leader told the Associated Press that university officials told students to shut down LGBT social media groups two months ago.

They said some schools in the Jiangsu province were told by officials to investigate sexual minority and women’s rights groups to “maintain stability”.

Three sources told Reuters that the loyalty of LGBT+ university groups to the government and Communist Party was discussed during a May meeting between student groups and university representatives for the Communist Youth League, which is associated with the ruling party.

A same-sex couple hold hands during an LGBT+ rights event in Hong Kong. (Philip Fong/Getty)

Homosexuality is legal in China, but anti-LGBT+ sentiments remain

Homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997 and was subsequently declassified as a mental disorder in 2001. However, the country still doesn’t recognise same-sex marriages, and there are no legal protections from discrimination against LGBT+ people in China, EqualDex states.

China’s longest-running and only major LGBT+ celebration, Shanghai Pride, abruptly cancelled events last year, according to CNN. The annual Pride celebration announced it was “cancelling all upcoming activities and taking a break from scheduling any future events” without offering a reason for the change.

A source told CNN that the volunteer-run team for Shanghai Pride, which had been operating for over a decade, had faced pressure from local authorities. The source said this pressure interfered with the individuals’ lives outside their role with the Pride group.

PinkNews has contacted WeChat’s operator Tencent for comment.